Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Healthy Grieving: Part II


(A painting I love by Ann Hardy)

Welcome back for more of my interview with Women's Lifegroup & Pastoral Care Minister Kathy Padgett from 121 Community Church. Kathy joins us this week for an interview on the subject of grief. The series began on Monday... scroll down to catch up!

Sarah:

Picking up where we left off last time... Question #3: What does the "cycle" of grief look like? How long, typically, does it take people to recover from a profound loss?

Kathy:

One of the worst things that has ever been taught is that there are "stages of grief." Just as God created every single person on this planet differently, every single person on this planet will grieve differently! The so-called "stages" may manifest, but do not follow a predictable order.

There are many "faces" or "aspects" or "characteristics" of grief, but no two people follow the same pattern. The only commonality is that most people begin grief in shock. "I can't believe this has happened" is the most common reaction in the beginning, which makes total sense! It takes the human brain a while to comprehend this type of loss. Shock is a blessing from God. It is one of the ways He protects us. Our heart rate slows, our mind slows down... this keeps us from self-destructing in the face of deep loss.

But to say that everyone goes through predictable, orderly stages of grieving is simply not true. Some of the "faces" of grief are confusion, disbelief, fear, anger, depression... and there are many more. But it is a roller coaster ride - not a chart! A great quote by C.S. Lewis from his painfuly eloquent book A Grief Observed (written after the death of his wife):

"Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. Not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one: you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat."

We do our loved ones, and ourselves, an injustice when we feel that we are "going backwards" or "not making progress" while going through grief. As long as we are facing the pain, we are making progress, even if it doesn't feel like it at the moment. Ignoring grief is the only way to not get stronger. It will hit you one day, when you least expect it, but it will never go away.

Sarah:

I haven't read the C.S. Lewis book you referred to, but I learned about his relationship with his wife in another book. It is an incredible love story about two people who met later in life and found such joy despite serious illness. Given the depth of the love he expressed, I can only imagine how hard it was for him to lose her. You know, somewhere along the line, I was taught the classic "stages of grief"... it's surprising to learn that these "stages" are off the mark. But it makes much more sense, based upon what I've personally seen and experienced, that it's more complex and not so easily "bucketed" into "whew... now that part's over" stages. Seems that feelings and emotions tend to reprise. Yet it would appear that there is a place at which grief is most palpable and acutely painful. Question #4: How long does the experience of I-don't-think-I-can-get-out-of-bed-grief tend to last?

Kathy:

There are several factors which determine that:

1) The age of the person: younger people usually have larger circles of supporting relationships. Age usually narrows those circles. Also, age may have an influence on the general health of the grieving person;

2) The manner of the death: compare the death of a small child with leukemia to a parent dying in their sleep in their late 80's...can you see why it would take longer to get over the trauma of the first death than the second one? A traumatic, shocking death will ALWAYS waylay the living;

3) Previous warning: when a death due to terminal illness occurs 6-18 months after a diagnosis, there is a better adjustment than when death occurs before 6 months, or after 18 months. The shorter time frame can produce shock and denial...while the longer time frame has usually included some rallies which produced hope;

4) The personality of the survivor: dependent people have a much harder time adjusting than independent people;

5) Life experiences while growing up: a person who never experienced any loss (or was sheltered from it by their parents) or any kind of deprivation while growing up has a LOT harder time with grief;

6) Relationship (healthy or unhealthy interactions) with the person who died: a person tends to grieve longer if there was guilt, unforgiveness, or hard feelings involved...they tend to think "if only I could have had another chance...";

7) How intimately a person knows God: believing He is there and active will shorten a person's painful grief tremendously.

Sarah:

Question #5: What are some of the unhealthy ways we respond to grief?

The answer to this question and much more from Kathy coming soon!


Kathy Padgett is the Women's Lifegroup and Pastoral Care Minister at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas. Prior to joining 121, she served as a hospital and home-care chaplain. Kathy is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).

Did you know... There's a medical condition called stress cardiomyopathy that researchers believe afflicts 2% of patients who think they are having a heart attack. Symptoms mimic heart faliure, but are linked, instead, to stress. The condition is otherwise known as "broken heart syndrome."

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